10:30 am Oct. 8, 2012
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—Rueben Randle, showered and in street clothes, was two steps toward the door of the Giants locker room when I intercepted him last Thursday.
Perhaps if he weren’t a rookie, he would have shrugged and kept going. But he is one, and more than most, he didn’t want to give the impression that he was cutting corners.
The Sunday before, NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth had mentioned on air that the Giants organization was disappointed in their second-round draft pick’s work ethic. Network analysts like Collinsworth usually don’t make stuff up out of thin air; it seemed likely that this tidbit was leaked to him deliberately in a pregame production meeting by a high-ranking coach or player.
This was all pointedly confirmed in Wednesday’s New York Post by Victor Cruz, who offered that Randle couldn't continue to “lollygag.”
Eli Manning was a little gentler but hit the same notes, saying, “He’s young and he’s trying to figure out what it takes to compete and get mentally and physically ready for upcoming games.”
So I asked Randle about the whole thing, and his response was pretty generic: “It takes a lot to bother me. I just stay focused, and control what I can control.”
For the entirety of our three-minute interview, Randle stood with his arms folded across his chest, looking down and making solid eye contact with me with minimal gesticulation or voice modulation. It actually did seem like it would take a lot bother him; his affect in the interview was languid, much like his manner on the field.
Randle is one of those athletes whose efficient movements and loping strides make it look like he’s not maxing out and that he’s going slower than he is. It’s what Joe Posnanski, referring to the maligned and misunderstood Carlos Beltran, termed “The Curse of Gracefulness.”
In a culture that lionizes the blood vessel-popping pre-game stylings of Ray Lewis, it can be perceived as listless and detached. I asked Randle if he thought that had anything to do with the way he's seen.
“I think it does—always has,” he said. “That’s why I said I really can’t focus on that. I can only do what I can do. And that’s to go out there and just be on point.”
Suffice it to say he was on point yesterday. Given his first chance at extended playing time because of the absence of Hakeem Nicks and Ramses Barden, Randle was the Giants’ leading receiver with 82 yards, which doesn’t include the 25 yards of pass interference penalties he drew. Of the 107 yards he generated, 103 came in the first half, the part of the game when it seemed like the Giants’ season might just tumble away against a terrible team if somebody didn’t start making some plays.
That guy was Randle: On the Giants’ third drive, with the team already down 14-0 and facing a 1st and 25 after a penalty, Randle gracefully leapt to snare a high Eli Manning throw for a 14-yard square-in. (It was one of only a tiny handful of bad throws by Manning, it turned out.) On the next play, Randle drew a pass interference penalty, and the Giants had conquered their daunting down-and-distance predicament.
More Randle on the next play, on a 12-yard square-in, for which Randle is well-suited because of those long, graceful strides: There’s little visible strain or slowdown when he springs 90 degrees in a different direction.
An 11-yard back-shoulder fade to Randle followed. It looked easy, and it was at this point it looked like, yes, it might just be that simple for Eli Manning to toss the ball around the yard against Cleveland’s defense all day. But there was also the way that Randle just makes things look easy.
More Randle two plays later, with a catch over the middle that brought the Giants’ to the three-yard-line. That was close enough for the next play’s plausible play-action fake that became Victor Cruz’s first of three touchdowns, which cut the deficit to 14-7.
Another display of Randle’s subtle athleticism two drives later: Randle got open down the sideline, hauled in a pass, then did a little hip fake to leave his defender, freeing himself for another 10 or so yards to get down to the 3-yard line. Bradshaw scored on the next play, and the game was tied at 17 apiece.
That little hip-wiggle—a slick, wormy move, as opposed to the more dynamic movements of Victor Cruz—was on display again toward the end of the first half, when Randle fielded a punt deep in Giants territory and then slipped the onrushing tackler to pick up an important 8 yards. Two plays later, Manning looked for Randle deep down the middle, and a pass interference call, the source of which was invisible to CBS cameras, set up a 40-yard field goal.
That made the score 27-17. Largely thanks to Randle, the Giants were on a 27-3 run, having turned a potential season-sinking deficit into a comfortable halftime lead, and nobody in America thought they weren’t going to win.
It was around this time that CBS analyst Dan Dierdorf dropped a bit of pregame production-meeting reporting, just as Collinsworth had the week before: That Thursday, which was the day I spoke with him, Randle and Manning had had a one-on-one film session at Manning’s behest. Also, in order to get Randle to “play faster” (Randle’s paraphrasing of the criticism of him, which subtly implied that his problem was one of comprehension and not effort) the Giants had reduced the complexity of his responsibilities: On a given play, his job was to run one route only, as opposed to “option routes” that depend on the defensive alignment and coverages.
Randle was quiet in the second half. The Giants limited their three wide-receiver sets and favored the running game, which enabled Ahmad Bradshaw’s redemptive day of his own.
Afterward, in an on-field interview with WFAN and Channel 9’s Paul Dottino, Randle retained his casual attitude toward the week's mini-controversy.
“I just came here to do my job," he said. "It wasn’t nothing special, just came out here and did what the coaches asked me to do."
Dottino hit on the hot topic of the previous seven days, asking him if his preparation was different because he knew he would play.
“It wasn’t that much of a difference,” Randle said. “I prepare myself each and every week the same, and here I got a lot more playing time and I was able to show my ability.”
More by this author:
- Gary Cohen, the anti-Michael Kay, also broadcasts during his time off
- Blue blood: The harsh logic behind the cutting of Bradshaw, Canty and Boley